As your child's brain matures, they tend to go through a shift in a perspective called adolescent egocentrism. What is that? It's a particular way of seeing themselves and others that can make their lives and yours more challenging. Understanding how it works and how to respond to it can make your job as a parent much more doable, especially if you pair this with online therapy.
Adolescent egocentrism describes the state common to most teenagers in which they seem to believe the world revolves around them. For some teenagers, this belief system leads to inflated confidence. They're perpetually convinced their peers are jealous, conniving, and plotting to dislodge their greatness. For others, adolescent egocentrism manifests as negative beliefs about themselves. They're alone in the world, uniquely different and uniquely small.
The term adolescent egocentrism was developed by a child psychologist named Dr. David Elkind. Dr. Elkind studied adolescents ranging from 11-18 years old, focusing on how they perceived the world compared to their adult counterparts. Dr. Elkind discovered that teenagers were largely unable to differentiate between their own perceptions and the perceptions of others. Teenagers consistently believed their view was the only possible view, and all other ideas were false or entirely nonexistent.
Adolescent egocentrism is one of the most difficult stages to parent. This is the stage of development that is often characterized by incessant arguing, including demanding and entitled behavior, and frequent emotional outbursts seemingly motivated by nothing. Many parents feel as though their children have transformed into entirely different creatures, citing a rise in aggression, argumentativeness, and stubbornness as the most common behavior changes.
Many parents of teenagers feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and alone. If you feel this way, take comfort: you certainly aren't alone! Most parents feel some amount of loss and exhaustion during this stage. Although it may seem as though the days will never end and your relationship with your teenager will forever be tenuous, this development stage is actually an important one in a child's growth. It will help them progress to more advanced stages of functioning (though some adults will struggle to leave behind the confines of egocentrism).
You might feel as though your child is engaging in behavior far too risky or extreme, and these concerns are valid. Many psychologists agree that one of the problems inherent in adolescent egocentrism is the presence of decreased accuracy in assessing risk and danger. For this reason, many teenagers in their adolescence behave as though they are invincible, whether this is through reckless driving, irresponsible sexual behavior, or drug use. During this time, friendships with other parents in a similar situation are paramount to maintaining sanity and peace.
Adolescent egocentrism has also been titled "the imaginary audience" or "the personal fable." These names are given to illustrate the notion that teenagers during this stage of development believe themselves to be the focus of everyone's attention. For this reason, during adolescence, some girls might struggle to get out socially, as they believe their peers are closely monitoring and judging their every move. Some boys might act out in loud, aggressive, and explosive displays, believing they have been charged with the sole duty of maintaining the embodiment of masculinity.
The so-called "imaginary audience" typically comprises the entire world, but almost certainly is made up of a teenager's peers. This often leads to teenagers striving to impress one another, sometimes through "daring" feats or even through falsehoods designed to make them appear a certain way. The imaginary audience helps teenagers create a wide range of behaviors and social constructs and is largely responsible for many of the personality traits and desires that teenagers express.
Similarly, the "personal fable" describes the unrealistic manner in which teenagers view themselves and the world around them. Teenagers are unable to recognize their small role in the grand scheme of the world and all of its inhabitants. They can fail to understand what that means for things such as success and failure. Consequently, every small setback can seem like the end of the world to a teenager and can result in a massive blowup or a complete loss of self-confidence.
Dealing with teenagers going through this stage can be difficult and taxing to even the most well-rounded, patient parent. Therefore, you must enlist some help, while remaining open, considerate, and hopeful for your future relationship. Help could include the following:
1) Connecting with your kids. Connecting with your children might be difficult during this time, but take any opportunity you can to find ways to bond. If your son loves modern dance, consider taking him to a performance. If your daughter is truly amazed by the deep ocean, visit a local museum or aquarium together. Finding any small way to connect with your children can help you when egocentrism rears its head.
2) Think of your own childhood. You might not have all of the same stressors your children have, but there are sure to be some areas in your past that relate to what your children are going through. Remembering your own difficult journey can help you develop empathy toward your children.
3) Remember: this too shall pass. The period of time in which your child is enmeshed in this stage of development may seem to stretch on and on. But remember that this adolescence period will pass, like every other developmental period before it. Your child will emerge much stronger and healthier – provided that you both handle the effects of the stage well.
4) Introduce new ideas. Children are best helped by being exposed to plenty of ideas and worldviews, so continue exposing your children to new types of music, new cultural ideas, and new experiences. Although these steps will not immediately eradicate the presence of egocentrism, it will help teenagers realize that they are not alone in the world and that there are other people and cultures out there.
5) Offer support. In the end, children require the unconditional love and support of their parents. Although you might not agree with everything your teenager says or does, they do need you to consistently demonstrate that your love and acceptance are not conditional.
Connecting with your parents and discovering how they helped or hindered your development during this stage can be helpful. Digging into your own experiences can not only help you learn more about your child and what they might be going through from a parent's perspective but also lend insight into how you were treated as a teenager and how that treatment during adolescence has shaped you into adulthood.
Friends going through the same thing can also be useful. When you feel your anger boiling or your frustration rising, instead of allowing that tension to explode, take it to a partner or friend. That friend might end up commiserating, and the two of you can feel just a little bit less alone when caring for a child during their adolescence.
Finally, an in-person or online therapist can help, whether that means group therapy with your child or personal therapy for yourself and/or your child if they're willing.
If you’re considering online therapy but worry that it might be difficult for you or for you and your child to connect on a meaningful level with your therapist, a study has shown that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional therapy. Ninety-six percent of people using online therapy reported feeling a personal connection with their online therapists as opposed to 91 percent who saw face-to-face therapists. They were also more invested in completing homework the therapists assigned them and occasionally reviewed correspondence between them and their therapists, leading them to move forward with their lives.
BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that connects you to a professional from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Where conventional therapy might require strict time frames and insurance, BetterHelp therapists have flexible schedules. No need to worry about sitting in traffic or taking time out of your day to drive to an appointment when you’re already dealing with the stress of parenting a teenager. Below, some parents describe their experience with BetterHelp counselors.
BetterHelp Counselor Reviews
"Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help I'm pretty sure I would've lost all contact with my 19 year old daughter who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can't say enough good about her!!"
"Absolutely brilliant! He helped me out of a pretty dark place and was nothing but helpful! For men who are looking for a counselor who understands what it is like to be a man in today's world with a family, with kids and responsibilities, job, etc, I was extremely impressed with his ability to get down to it and understand what I was talking about. He's great at getting to the root of the issue too. No need to slog through 8,000 words to find out what point he's trying to make. He has a knack for asking exactly the right question in about 2-3 sentences. If you're looking for a counselor who isn't the typical counselor, he's your guy!"
Moving Forward With Adolescent Egocentrism
Parenting teenagers during their adolescence can be difficult. Between the hormonal changes, cognitive changes, and physical changes that inevitably happen to adolescents, parenting teenagers can be a series of ups and downs. Fortunately, with diligence, compassion, love, and help from a counselor, you can be well on your way to achieving healthy, strong connections in the midst of this trying stage. Take the first step today.
Commonly Asked Questions On This Topic Found Below:
What is an example of adolescent egocentrism?
An example of adolescent egocentrism can involve an individual having a pimple on their face, and they think that everyone will notice and judge them for it.
How do you explain the adolescent egocentrism?
Adolescent egocentrism can best be explained as having a belief or perception adolescents have about themselves that doesn’t actually reflect what people really think about them, which is usually nothing at all.
For example, during adolescence, a small embarrassing situation can get blown out of proportion, when the adolescent believes that everyone is thinking about them in a negative way and they dwell on the event. It can stem from feeling self conscious and experiencing critical scrutiny for themselves, and because of this, sometimes adolescent egocentrism results in social anxiety, where people can feel reluctant and try to avoid impending social settings out of fear of being the center of attention and dealing with any embarrassment.
Usually, adolescents tend to care a lot about other people’s opinions, but when there is a discrepancy between what the adolescent believes and what’s happening in reality, you get adolescent egocentrism, which are still typical adolescent behaviors and beliefs. However, even if it’s common, it’s still not healthy and productive for teenagers to get caught up in their own feelings in this manner.
What are the different aspects of adolescent egocentrism?
Adolescent egocentrism can be broken down into different components. The term itself was described by David Elkind who believed that this complex set of behavior patterns can be divided in two primary parts - imaginary audience and personal fable, and here, people will construct imaginary situations and beliefs about themselves.
Imaginary audience, as part of Elkind’s theory, refers to when an adolescent has a belief that people are watching and thinking about them, regardless if it’s good or bad. For example, an imaginary audience could be praising the adolescent in their mind or they could be criticizing or judging them; however, neither of these perceptions are real - the point is the adolescent’s preoccupation with other people is not rooted in reality.
Most of the time, children and young adults who experience the imaginary audience phenomenon lean towards the self consciousness aspect of adolescent egocentrism, but nonetheless, there can be adolescents who are more self-absorbed and want the attention, regardless if it’s from imagined situations or actual social situations. Basically, an adolescent anticipates a certain outcome or reaction out of others. In these contrasting situations, the imaginary audiences played a different role in people’s lives and can vary from person to person. Therefore, an imaginary audience scale was developed to measure this and could potentially predict social anxiety.
With the personal fable idea, Elkind argued in his theory that adolescents believe that their own thoughts and experiences are unique to them and that they are inherently special. Elkind believed that personal fable is closely connected to the imaginary audience aspect of adolescent egocentrism, and they work together to reinforce it. The personal fable concept is also associated with the common adolescent belief that they are “immortal” - in other words, nothing can happen to them because they aren’t like other people and have personal uniqueness, which can result in risk taking behaviors. On the other hand, the personal fable aspect can make people feel like they are being persecuted and will try to seek privacy and try to avoid certain situations like public attention because of their adolescent beliefs. Like the imaginary audience, a personal fable scale was also created with similar measurement goals.
Elkin pointed out that the imaginary audience and personal fable aspects will gradually go away over time once they reach the formal operations stage in their lives, which begins around 12 years old, and lasts throughout their early adolescence and until adulthood, but usually can become less prevalent by the time they reach late adolescence. This happens because the perceptions and behaviors that were formed during childhood development will begin to be replaced with more abstract thinking and an ability to rationalize situations and solve various problems. Essentially, the formal operations enable adolescents to become more mature because a physiological metamorphosis occurs in their brains. The concept of the formal operational thought stage in psychology was first described in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and helped pave the way for Elkin’s ideas regarding imaginary audience and personal fable that can partially account for shaping adolescent beliefs. Both are vital parts of developmental psychology.
What is an example of egocentrism?
Egocentrism is a topic in psychology that could also be traced back to Jean Piaget, and it can refer to an adolescent’s inability to understand or incorporate another’s point of view outside of their own. Egocentrism can last forever, but it can appear differently at certain stages of a person’s life. As an example, in adolescents and young adults, someone who is displaying egocentrism may believe that if they don’t wear the correct outfit that day, they will be humiliated because the adolescent believes that they’re the focus of everyone’s attention in social settings.
What is an example of egocentrism of a child?
Egocentrism in kids can appear quite differently than adolescents because children tend to lack the perception that other people have the same thoughts and experiences as them; they think the entire world is seeing life through the same lens as them.
A good example of this is the popular childhood game, and hide-and-seek. Kids who play may think they are well-hidden, but meanwhile, their limbs or clothing may be sticking out of a corner in plain sight. Because the hider can’t see themselves and think they are hidden, they automatically believe that the seeker will see what they see.
What are characteristics of egocentrism?
Egocentrism can have its root in a variety of different traits, but not everyone will have these characteristics. Nonetheless, some of them can include arrogance, self-centeredness, and lack of empathy. Even though they’re similar, egocentrism shouldn’t be confused with narcissism - while someone with egocentrism struggles to understand others, narcissists can still see someone else’s point of view but just won’t care and disregard them because theirs is more important to them. This is how they can be distinguished in psychology.